Date of Award
Master of Arts
Carolyn M. Craft, Ph.D.
Derek Taylor, Ph.D.
Craig A. Challender, Ph.D
The person and idea of King Arthur conjures up various images ranging from a young boy pulling a sword from a stone, to a triumphant warrior in battle, to an aging man floating on a barge to the mystical isle of Avalon. Some of the current scholarly discussion regarding Arthur revolves around his historicity. Whether or not a man, warrior, or king named Arthur ever actually walked the earth has little effect on the literature of the man and his legends. These legends were birthed from cultures that needed a hero, one who could shoulder the hopes of all of Britain. The man and his retinue who emerge from the legends known as Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table has roots finnly embedded in Celtic history. Celtic mythology and religion laid the foundation for the legends of Arthur. This thesis will establish three tracts from which the Arthurian legends derive their roots from Celtic mythology and Celtic Christianity.
Celtic characteristics are prevalent in Arthurian literature and the feats of Arthur and his knights find their heritage in the tales of Celtic mythology. Direct parallels can be drawn from Cu Chulainn in the Ulster cycle tales, from early tales of Arthur such as are found in the Mabinogion, and even from Malory's Morte d'a Arthur. Similarly, the legends of Gwydion in Celtic mythology can actually be considered a precursor to Arthur himself.
Likewise, the magical, or mythical elements seen in the stories of Arthur have direct links to Celtic gods. For example, the Celtic goddess of war and death, Morrigaine, is a precursor to Arthur's legendary sister, Morgan Le Fay. So too, the early Celtic mythological character Myrddin passes his "magic" along to Merlin.
Finally, one of the predominant branches of the Arthurian stories is the persistent quest for one worthy to find the Holy Grail. This holy symbol which is such a cornerstone of this legend can actually be traced back to the Celtic horn of plenty and the cup that Joseph of Arimathea allegedly brought to the British Isles. The Celtic connection between the Arthurian Grail and Celtic mythology and religion is unmistakable .
Arthur is not just a hero of the British: his roots are found among the Celts. As the Celts made their transition from paganism to Christianity, so did their literature, and their heroes. Hence, Celtic symbols, characters, heroes, and gods morphed from pagan to Christian or other "acceptable" forms, into what we now know as the Legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.
Koenig, Gretchen, "THE INFLUENCE OF CELTIC MYTH AND RELIGION ON THE ARTHURIAN LEGENDS" (2004). Theses, Dissertations & Honors Papers. 104.